NASA | SEXTANT: Navigating by Cosmic Beacon


[ SFX ] For centuries, sailors have traversed the seas with the help of a sextant and the stars. Now a team led by scientists and engineers at NASA Goddard is taking navigation by the
stars to a whole new level. Future spacecraft will have the capability to explore the vastness of space with unprecedented awareness of their own place in the Galaxy. NASA’s SEXTANT mission will demonstrate the use of pulsars, nature’s stellar lighthouses,
as navigational beacons. Pulsars are small, dense stellar remnants that regularly sweep beams of energy our way. Successive sweeps produce pulses timed so precisely that they rival atomic clocks on Earth and that’s exactly how NASA plans to use them. With its sensitive telescopes, SEXTANT will lock onto multiple pulsars, allowing it to
determine its precise location in the Galaxy. Future spacecraft will navigate to distant planets using this new capability in much the same way that we use GPS to travel to unfamiliar locations on Earth. Pulsar-based spacecraft navigation is still in its development stage, but the SEXTANT proof of concept mission could be tested on the International Space
Station as soon as 2015. [ SFX ]

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